Federal judge rejects plea agreement in hate crime case for Ahmaud Arbery killer, Travis McMichael

Jan 31, 2022, 3:22 PM
Originally Published: 31 JAN 22 01:09 ET
Updated: 31 JAN 22 16:53 ET

(CNN) — US District Judge Lisa G. Wood on Monday rejected the plea deal reached by prosecutors and Travis McMichael on hate crime charges, a plan that would have precluded his federal trial in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

The judge had been expected to rule separately on the plea deal for McMichael’s father, Gregory McMichael, in a hearing originally scheduled to begin 45 minutes after first court session.

But after the judge’s rejection of the plea deal, attorneys for both McMichaels asked for more time to decide whether to change their pleas. The next hearing will be Friday.

The trial is scheduled for Monday with the start of jury selection.

In early January, Gregory and Travis McMichael were convicted in state court of murder in Arbery’s death after he was shot while running from the McMichaels and another man, William “Roddie” Bryan.

The McMichaels were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility for parole. Bryan was also convicted in state court and sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.

His name was not mentioned in court filings for the proposed plea deals.

Trial drew national attention

The three defendants were convicted on state charges in the February 23, 2020, murder. The McMichaels told police they believed Arbery was a suspect in recent burglaries and chased him. Bryan, a neighbor, got in a vehicle and also pursued Arbery as he was jogging.

Travis McMichael exited the vehicle after catching up to Arbery and fatally shot him as the two struggled over McMichael’s shotgun.

The McMichaels were arrested May 7, 2020, days after video of the shooting surfaced, and Bryan was taken into custody two weeks later.

The subsequent trial drew national attention. The circumstances surrounding the killing involved race, video evidence and the rights and limitations of self-defense using firearms.

The case dovetailed with the killings of three Black people — Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, George Floyd in Minneapolis and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta — reigniting concerns over racial injustice and prompting civil unrest nationwide.

Much was also made about the investigation prior to the trial — which featured multiple prosecutor recusals — as well as tactics utilized by some of the defendants’ defense attorneys during the trial that were questioned by legal experts.

The presence during the trial of civil rights leaders, such as the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, brought condemnation and accusations of undue influence from at least one defense attorney, while another defense attorney’s comments about Arbery’s toenails drew heavy criticism from Arbery’s family and others.

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Federal judge rejects plea agreement in hate crime case for Ahmaud Arbery killer, Travis McMichael